Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Year Later and I Failed, The Top 5 Reasons Why

May, 2013: Quit my job.

June: Sold my place, moved from NYC to India, and opened our first office.

July: Hired several more developers.

August: Moved into a townhouse, converted the downstairs into an office for 10 people.

October: Launched MeTooStudios, a web design and service division.

November: Co-founded 1More, a non-profit corporation.


Skip forward to March: I’ve told my team here in India that I will not be renewing their contracts. I’ve reduced our U.S. team by half. I sold MeToo Studios, and stepped down from the board of 1More. I am closing the 1ME office in India and returning back home at the end of this month.

That was my first year, in a nutshell. I have taken my company in full circle, starting out with one core product, MeSocial, and ending the year with our focus back on it. Failure was always inevitable, but learning from my mistakes and adapting is the difference between quitting and succeeding. As the company founder, I am driven by the huge risk/reward factor of my business, and I expected that others, who had risked little or less, to hold the same mindset. That is the basis of my overall failure. As I look back on this past year, I failed to achieve what I envisioned, and here are the top 5 reasons why:

1. I believed in good intentions.
Good intentions are great, but when the thoughts do not align with actions and dedication, then those intentions become false hopes. I failed because I hid the fact that some team members lacked the level of experience needed, as well as the motivation to progress, learn and adapt in a startup environment. Yes, the expectation level was high, but the willingness to adapt (or not), makes or break the individual in a startup atmosphere. Individuals, by nature, do mean well, but that has little value in a startup if they lack the motivation (risk factor) to pursue changing circumstances and demands.

2. I was too nice. “Nice guys finish last” is a phrase that indicates that you cannot get what you want by being kind or considerate. Honestly, who wants to finish last anyway? There are many levels of nice, but being too nice can lead to being a push over. From my ignorance of India's culture, to avoiding confrontation, being too flexible caused me to lose respect and slowed down my overall progress. I failed to put the company first and I lost time and money because I did not make the needed changes sooner.

3. I fed on hype. A startup is a hot word and in today’s world, we see more of them and more people leaving their jobs to start one. This trend leads to hype for those individuals who are given an opportunity to be a part of one. From my perspective, the hype lasted only for a short period of time because the focus was building a future that I risked everything for. I brought on people who loved the idea, but who did not understand the risk and time that was necessary. I failed because I too got caught up in the hype, the new ideas I encountered, and new team members joining my effort. I lost sight of the future and our core mission, instead focusing on the day-to-day.

4. I was afraid to cut my losses. The first three reasons resulted in my getting to this point. Sometimes ideas and people do not just work out. My goal of wanting to teach and develop people, and to watch them become successful, hindered my resolve to take the necessary actions. I needed to let some people go and make changes on how the company operated. I failed because I was hesitant to confront those issues head-on and start over.

5. I didn’t look for a mentor.
With a “do it myself” attitude, I launched into this venture with no guidance. My knowledge of the startup world was largely limited to what I saw in the news or read online. Combining my research with my professional experience, I was confident I would be able to do this on my own, and refused to actively seek mentorship or more formal startup incubators or VCs. It took me longer to realize that I was stretching myself thin, holding onto dead weight, and not aligning with the company’s original focus. Even though I had a team, most of them were younger professionally, which made it hard to bounce strategic ideas off from. I became a mentor and spent more time training then moving forward. I failed to become a mentee, but fortunately that is no longer the case now.

This past year, I have learned a lot and pushed the boundaries that I thought was impossible, further and further. I have been very patient, I have wasted time and resources, and I have negotiated with my level of expectation. I have been in a cloudy dream of having a company which did not match the reality.

I often questioned why I am even doing this at all. How much more can I bleed financially before it becomes an impossible hole to climb out from? When does ambition become a burden? Do I go back to the corporate world when I gave up everything to get out of it? Truthfully, I do not know. This venture has been a struggling blessing for me.

So what now? The company is slimmer and the focus is honed, now is the time to charge forward. Honestly, I failed and I'm glad that I did. Let yesterday's limits become today's starting point, right?


14 comments:

  1. Failure isn't what you have at the end of the year. You have learned that taking on too much with too little resources contributes to a lack of focus. That is the beginning of success. You have simply had to remind yourself what path you are on and refocus on the pavement in front of you instead of getting caught up looking down the crossroads that will always be waiting to distract you. Be a success my friend and the next time we have a drink together I hope to hear about your continuing achievements and how you got back on the right path.

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    1. Hey Richard, thanks for your words of encouragement. Yes, it is about the lessons learn from these failures and I do plan on moving forward!

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  2. It takes a lot of courage to put an open book and honest blog post up like this. I feel this type of discussion is a great topic for many college/university students whose goals are to "open their own business". Most college courses are not centered around being independent but rather which company to go work for. This may not be true at all institutions, but I believe this goes to show that maybe our college and university classes are not gearing us towards the true hardships and realities of opening our own business. This post hits the nail on the head.

    Thanks for this post Thomas!

    -Jeff Hillen

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    1. Thanks Jeff! I agree with you that college classes do not gear us towards entrepreneurship. Owning a business is difficult, and there are so many different scenarios that you run into. I think the important thing is getting experience in the corporate world first and be armed with real world skills.

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  3. Thomas,

    The most admirable thing about this post was your complete transparency. Through this post I learned a few things about you.

    1. I learned that you have what it takes to make it in the start-up world. Although you recognized some flaws in your approach in conducting the business, I don't believe you did anything wrong. You did what you thought was best, and learned it didn't work. I see so much potential in your ability to do big things, that I get excited just thinking about it.

    2. One big reason why I get excited is because you have a unique ability to introspect. You analyze everything you're going through. Many people continue to try, fail, try again and fail constantly. They do not stop to think about what steps they've taken and what they need to change moving forward. You do... constantly.

    3. You take everything as a learning experience. Things sometimes get very difficult and I've seen you struggle through some of them, but you have this desire to survive that's so damn strong - you just learn and move on. I admire that about you - it is hard. But you are a wonderful example of it.

    4. You care. You are nice, sometimes very very nice - but I believe stems from the fact that you actually do care. That genuine trait of yours is the reason why people will believe in your causes, int he things you do, and in you. Learn to manage a team, grow a business and train people - but if you lose the goal of making a difference, caring, being genuine - you'll lose the support that will really matter to you.

    I believe there's so much you can do, you already have. I'd just adjust ONE statement you made above. You said you 'wasted time and resources'. If you never took the last few years to experiment with this time and those resources, do you really think you'd have realized the things about yourself as you did while writing this post? I don't think so. It was not a waste, in my opinion. It is an experience that's taught you more about yourself than a 4 years degree can teach anyone.

    This struggle will make you stronger and more collected. I know it.

    Keep marching forward brother! Thank you very much for this post. Some of these points hit home with me as areas I need to improve in myself.

    -Shyam Bhoraniya

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    1. Thanks buddy, I have always been transparent with what I do professionally, there is nothing to hide. I hope by being honest, it will allow others to provide honest feedback and to learn from my mistakes. I think the best way of learning is being critical of oneself and finding what areas to improve on. Its about growing, adapting, and progressing.

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  4. Exactly, While it may have appeared like failure today. They are lessons learned.
    Keep pressing on.

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  5. I worked for a small business before I ever went to college. The owner there would often joke with me saying "you should be paying me to work here" he has been a true mentor and has not only paved the way for my future within his company, but has driven me to be constantly looking for the next thing. A good mentor will teach you more than college and your life experiences will only make you a stronger, smarter person...if you choose to learn from them...... there are many great quotes about failure, but reality is that failure drives us to be better, reinvent, redirect, and renew our passions. More focused than ever. Keep pounding the pavement, you'll get there.

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  6. This is such a motivational blog, thanks for sharing your experience! I often see challenges as opportunities and failures as the pavement to success (as long as you don't commit the same errors again). I admire your ability to stand back up and admit to your faults, this is something all of us should learn from you.

    So, what are you plans? All the best!!

    - Lisa Lao

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    1. Thanks Lisa, I'm moving forward with MeSocial and looking to get it into mobile.

      Appreciate your support!

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  7. Working at a start up, this shared some great insight into the life.

    I believe it is more about the team of people around you more than anything else.

    I would not call the past year a failure at all for you.

    Great article, thanks for sharing your experience brother!

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